DNA components found in meteorites
August 11th, 2011
09:17 AM ET

DNA components found in meteorites

NASA researchers have found the building blocks of DNA, the genetic molecule that is essential to all life forms, in meteorites, pieces of space rock that have fallen to Earth. The discovery suggests that similar meteorites and comets may have impacted Earth and assisted in life formation here.

With minimal chance for contamination of the meteorite samples, scientists are confident that these meteorite specimens were formed in space. “People have been discovering components of DNA in meteorites since the 1960's, but researchers were unsure whether they were really created in space or if instead they came from contamination by terrestrial life,” Michael Callahan, lead author of the study on the discovery, said in a statement.

The research team analyzed twelve carbon rich meteorites, nine of which were from Antarctica, to positively identify the basic elements of the chemical compounds they extracted from the samples. Testing revealed adenine and guanine, two fundamental components of DNA called nucleobases.

DNA is shaped like a double helix, or twisted ladder, and the rungs of that ladder are each comprised of two nucleobases, either a pairing of adenine and thymine or of guanine and cytosine. The ladder is essentially a long string of genetic code that tells cells in an organism which proteins to make. Those proteins then play critical roles in organism growth and function, making everything from hair to enzymes.

Scientists also found hypoxanthine and xanthine, two other chemicals used in biological processes and found in muscle tissue.

The meteorites also contained trace amounts of three molecules associated with nucleobases, called nucleobase analogs, but two of those are almost never seen in biology, providing the necessary proof that these DNA components were actually created in outer space.

In fact the only record of any of these nucleobases in biologic processes is within a virus.  Callahan said in the NASA press release that “if asteroids are behaving like chemical 'factories' cranking out prebiotic material, you would expect them to produce many variants of nucleobases, not just the biological ones, due to the wide variety of ingredients and conditions in each asteroid,” and that is exactly what these researchers found. He says the nucleobases found, biological or not, can also be created in a lab setting, using the basic compounds hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, and water.

This finding contributes further to the growing collection of evidence that asteroids and comets are comprised of the proper chemicals to generate the building blocks of life. Some seem to have the ideal internal chemistry for the job.

“In fact, there seems to be a ‘goldilocks’ class of meteorites,” Callahan said in a statement, “the so called CM2 meteorites, where conditions are just right to make more of these molecules.”

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Filed under: Discoveries • News
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    December 23, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
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  10. james

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    September 7, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  11. james

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    “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

    September 7, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  12. ChaoticDreams

    Please, for everyone on here spouting religious and non-religious arguments, please just read up on the most recent scientific theories (quantum mechanics, loop gravity, and M-theory), and then read the Bible, and make up your own damned mind about what is true. I'm an atheist and no amount of religious dogma will change that. And for all the pro-atheists, no amount of reasoning/argument will convince the religious that they are wrong. Better your own knowledge.

    August 16, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  13. Louis Morelli

    This information does not confirm the hypothesis that life came from space. There are at least two equally possible alternatives:

    A) If DNA’s elements can appear in meteorites and comets, why not also on planets?;

    2) Life did not come from space (this is the theory of panspermia), but from the evolution of the whole space as a system, there was no "origin" of life, living beings are biological systems and only product of the evolution of astronomical systems, to which the Earth belongs (this is the Matrix / DNA Theory).

    The press has a responsibility to avoid being the spokesman of ideologies that tomorrow may be in the school curriculum forming the minds of young people who, when they are indoctrinated with wrong views of the world lose their own initiative to think and seek the truth themselves.

    This is an opportunity for “thinkers outside the box” researchers. The belief that life came from space is growing because they can not make the Urey’s amino acids making the next step that should be to form proteins and RNA. Give up this way and seek other solutions to the origins of life and knowledge of important natural mechanisms. But in the Amazon we have discovered the possibility of the existence of the Matrix / DNA and would be this formula that is missing for the amino acids produced in the Earth. (See the formula on the website of "The Matrix Universal Vital Natural Systems and Cycles").

    August 14, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  14. curt

    What does this mean to families from miners.. who were exposed to these alien rocks/dust with very little protection?

    August 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  15. Mike B

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    August 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • stormsun

      Or maybe you will stand in front of Allah, who will be mightily displeased that you didn't follow his prophet, Mohammed. Or maybe it will be Odin, wondering why we have forsaken the Norse gods, or Zeus who will be unhappy we were unfaithful to the Hellenic gods, and on and on. Religion is based on HUMAN revelation. Did it ever occur to you to wonder about the individual humans who have these revelations? David Berkowitz, also known as the .44 Calibre Killer, or the Son of Sam, also had revelations. God told him to kill young women with long dark hair in New York during 1976 and 1977. How are we to know his revelations are false? Maybe we should be following his leadership. Such claims are impossible to verify and many would seem to be a delusional as Berkowitz's. The irony in all this is that secular humanists, who value human beings and consider all achievement in our world (good or bad) to be the result of human potential, are skeptical of unsubstantiated human claims. Yet religionists, who claim to put no stock in human wisdom or potential, willingly suspend any rational thought process and blindly accept the word of other human beings as "spokesmen" for an unseen supernatural being – even to the point of commiting atrocities against their fellow beings. Tell me who is behaving more sensibly, will you?

      August 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
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    August 12, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
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    August 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • stormsun

      Score one WHAT? By the way, where does your antagonism and apparent hatred for atheists come from? Surely, another person's beliefs do not threaten your own? What does it matter to you if most scientists in the world are not believers in a personal god? Does it bother you as much that several billion people, accounting for more than half the earth's population, don't share your views of God? If God is real, do you think our beliefs one way or the other threaten Him? Isn't your religion one of forgiveness and understanding? My observation is, first of all, that most Christians are nice, decent people; they are not judgmental or intolerant. They are reasonable folks, good neighbors, etc. Then there are the extremists, who are becoming increasingly vocal. They preach things like intolerance and non-acceptance of people different from themselves. They teach, much like the extremist Muslims, that those who believe differently are condemned in God's eyes, which leads them to feel no empathy or concern for these people, but rather to emulate the scorn God is alleged to have for the "unsaved." It was such views that led to my own "epiphany" – that the whole theology I was brought up in seemed strangely human-like in its pettiness and small-minded concerns. So which camp do you fall into?

      August 12, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  18. Mike B

    IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH. (Genesis 1:1)

    August 12, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  19. Peter Grenader

    I'm not sure they are saying either, uet can now postulate both.

    August 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  20. danbrownfan

    You would think the government could come up with something better than this!

    Dan Brown wrote a book called Deception Point in 2001. The basic summary – NASA claims to find a meteorite in the Arctic that shows extraterrestial life. It was a hoax. NASA started it because public opinion of the space program was poor and there was a chance it could lose funding or support. The meteorite was fake and used to bolster public support.

    Doesn't anyone think it's funny that this story follows:
    1. The end of the space program
    2. Public outcry for reduced spending on domestic programs

    NASA is obviously worried about what will be cut next. Seems this "discovery" is being used to justify value of NASA's existence.

    Can't the government do better? And who really cares anyway?

    August 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Peter Grenader

      How dare you politicize one of the biggest discoveries of our age! Sorry to see you've lost so much hope in mankind.

      August 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  21. DD

    The headline should read, pieces of the chemicals that make up DNA. Not sure what the scientists are trying to say, suggesting that life on earth formed from a synthethis of native & alien material, or that we are being showered with concrete chemical proof of life existing elsewhere?

    August 12, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • stormsun

      Scientists are not "trying to say" anything. They have made a discovery that chemical precursors to complex molecules, similar to those that may have led to the development of life on Earth, have been found within meteorites. This suggests that such chemical combinations exist not only on Earth, but elsewhere in the universe. This is not really that big a step, when you think about it. We know that Earth is composed of elements common throughout the universe – why then would it be so surprising to find that chemical compounds known to have formed (and continually forming) on our planet NOT be forming elsewhere? The reason it is a big deal of course, is that we have no direct evidence yet that "life" has developed elsewhere in the universe. This still does not prove that life resulted elsewhere based on these chemical combinations, but it is evidence suggesting that it is, indeed, possible. What is happening here is a chain of evidence that will lead us to better understand the universe around us. Theories will be developed, hypotheses tested, and slowly we will add to our knowledge with reliable, evidence-based study. Which, as you can appreciate, is quite different from religion, based on things like, "I had a vision from God last night, and He said so-and-so."

      August 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  22. Basil White

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    August 12, 2011 at 6:41 am |
    • FABLEvolution

      Not me! Only Darwin and his team.

      August 12, 2011 at 7:12 am |
  23. FABLEvolution

    Does it mean that we can witness with our very eyes how one-celled plants will be turned into a reptile; into t-rex; into a monkey; and into Darwin?

    That sounds great,REALLY!

    August 12, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • queenbee

      Hey scientist–can anyone name any virus (where this DNA supposedly is sourced to) that has DNA instead of RNA ?

      August 12, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • FABLovEr

      Would be a nice movie, specially in 3D.

      August 12, 2011 at 3:56 am |
  24. GeorgeB

    goldilocks ... not too hot, not too cold, just right. I like it, not a science guy, had not heard that term before in that context ... pretty clever.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:10 am |
  25. Aquaplex

    Another sign that life in universe is quite common.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:10 am |
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